I have to put out this “disclaimer,” if you will, before I begin:
It was never my intention to get involved in this “controversy” – this latest go-’round between Black America and its oft-disgarded stepchildren, Black conservatives.
This latest dust-up between Ebony’s Jamilah Lemieux and the RNC’s Raffi Williams – all playing out on Twitter and other social media platforms over the past week – was hard to ignore, although I really tried.
The responses from many Black Republicans and conservatives (including friends, colleagues, and those that I respect) in digital print and interviews, along with the feedback from other friends and family within Black America and throughout the nation, just made it that much harder to sidestep – especially since no one seems to want to address what is truly the turbulent current underneath the river’s reflection of this matter.
Ironically, in the ongoing conversation about Black voters, political advocacy, Black conservatives and the Republican Party, no one seems to want to discuss the true elephant in the room.
Let’s be clear: when given an even-keel opportunity, Black Americans are not, have not, and will not be adverse to diversity of thought or a “marketplace of ideas”. However, based on the social and political realities of America as they are today, they will continue to object to any appearance of cultural adversity, abject silence, and lack of advocacy by Black Republicans towards Black America.
To be honest, it is as simple as this: until Black America feels that this diversity of political perspectives and civic ideas has a tangible, long-lasting, and healthy benefit for the majority of its voting bloc, there will remain an adversity to any contrast to the status quo of the partisan alliances for over 90% of African-Americans. This is especially so when Black Republicans remain silent on key issues that frighten, threaten, or largely impact African-Americans – or, worse still, excoriate Black America through a litany of right-wing talking points and platforms.
Black America grows frustrated – and, dare I say, as angry and disgusted as Ms. Lemieux sounded on Twitter with her comments – whenever we Black Republicans claim victimhood through online attacks by liberals, yet turn around and admonish poor Blacks for “claiming victimhood” when it comes to their lives in America after years of urban blight, educational neglect, civic corruption, and business erosion. For every Black Republican that speaks up on nationally-recognized issues such as the Trayvon Martin case in 2012 (as did former Congressman Allen West over the blotched initial steps by the Sanford Police), there were many others that went into the national fray to disparage the reputation of a dead 17-year-old while ignoring the racial undertones of the case. For every Black conservative that hails the constitutional right to bear arms for self-defense against “thugs”, there are many more that also have remained silent on the Marissa Alexander case (also in Florida) where a once-hospitalized survivor of domestic violence leaned on her 2nd Amendment rights to secure her “pursuit of happiness”. Many also did not stand up forJohn McNeil in Georgia and John H. White in New York despite speaking up for “Stand Your Ground” laws in other cases.
For every Black conservative that speaks up about young Black men needing to “man up” and “pull their pants up”, there is a deafening silence coming from many of them concerning the unconstitutional treatment of honor-roll students Jordan Miles in Pittsburgh and Darrin Manning in Philadelphia along with thousands of “innocent until proven guilty” Black citizens through the proliferation of “stop-and-frisk” insanity. Even when a Black Republican speaks up for voter validation and against voter suppression, many others keep silent, even when the intents of rushed and flawed voter ID laws seemed to have reared their heads publicly.
Duplicitous incidents like this only piss off Black America when it comes to Black conservatives. Our collective silence and failure to use our conservatism to advocate for, defend, stand with, and uplift Black America (as other voting blocs do in this nation) are interpreted as us collectively being complicit in acts that are harmful to African-Americans in the 21st century. At a time when we are collectively more caught up in calling ourselves trail-blazers in Black politics than we should be, we must instead be more focused on being leaders for generations of Blacks and America overall.
Sadly still, our collective selectivity to speak up on controversial issues – while also often telling people to stop being “poverty pimps” and “race hustlers” during a “war on women”- makes us look like hypocrites.
For too many Black conservatives, blasting liberals for disrespectful images of former Secretary of State Condi Rice is fair game but pushing back on ape photos and other racist images in social media since 2009 about the Obamas is uncalled for as those images are merely “political satire”. For many, defending former Governor Sarah Palin from being called “Caribou Barbie” in 2008 was honorable but admonishing Palin for her defense of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s n-word tirade in 2010 was off-limits. Black Republicans cannot consistently speak up to the horrors of Planned Parenthood and the impacts of abortion on the Black community and not have the same zeal to address the death and destruction found through the inequality of death row sentencing, jail populations, healthcare outcomes, and personal wealth.
Heck, even when a Republican attacks one of their one with racist and disgusting rhetoric – as was the case when a Republican former Miss America was equated to a “streetwalker” being “pimped” – Black Republicans often tote the party line, back away, and refuse to speak up for the sake of ethics, honor, and our higher political and civic selves.
If we don’t show that we will stand for something for the sake of Black people – especially when it’s inconvenient, unpopular, or uncomfortable – why should we expect the Black voting bloc to fall back in love with us as “one of them” or “fall” for anything that we say?
By and large, Black America sees Black conservatives collectively talk down to African-Americans. Very few see Black conservatives regularly speak with the Black community. Fewer still ever see Black conservatives speak up for Black people struggling in today’s America – during times of increased economic disparities, civic alienation, the New Jim Crow, employment woes, and scholastic failures. This notion – perceived or real – will keep tensions high and keep Black voters from embracing political diversity and fullness until we change our interactions, our applications of conservatism, and our frequency of political courage for the sake of Black America as members within the Party of Lincoln.
The elephant in the room concerning this ongoing dynamic – the item that must be tempered, handled, massaged, and advanced onward – is that where Black conservatives and the Republican Party have largely continued the same “woe is me, we are not accepted by Black people” narrative without maturing how we act collectively towards the Black community during times of high crisis, high profile, and highly-notable events over the past few years. This has not changed despite more Black conservatives being found regularly on traditional outlets hosted by Black media types including Roland Martin (News One Now), Marc Lamont Hill (HuffPostLive), TJ Holmes (CNN Saturday Morning, Don’t Sleep and MSNBC Live), and Don Lemon (CNN Newsroom). However, being Black conservatives without being advocates for Black Americans as conservatives will never win over Black America, Black voters, or Black people like Ms. Lemieux – folks that have felt burned by the conservative movement for decades. And, to be fair: if Tea Party conservatives can reject establishment conservatives over political principles since2009, why shouldn’t Blacks take the same approach towards us collectively over advocacy disconnects?
No one wants to listen to the peddler of ideas if no genuine, long-term investment in the audience is involved. Political investment involves presence and relationship. Economic investment involves growth, vision, and prosperity. Civic investment involves respect, advocacy, and – dare I say it – love. People speak up and out for folks that they love unfailingly.
When Black America sees more Black conservatives take chances for Black people today – just as Black leaders did during the Civil Rights Movement and at other times in our nation’s proud history – then Black America will take a chance on us. They will not push back and revile any notion of diversity of thought, marketplace of ideas, or change of political perspective. I have seen it on the south side of Chicago. I have seen it in academia and in the non-profit world. I have seen it with young people, urban residents, and liberal media types alike. It will happen on a greater, national scale. However, this elephant in the room will not dance to a different tune if we collectively refuse to change the song that we sing – and when we’ll open up our mouths to sing that truth.
Lenny McAllister is a political analyst and commentator featured on various local, national and international outlets including Al Jazeera America, CNN, the American Urban Radio Network, and Sun News Network. The Pittsburgh-based pundit hosts NightTalk: Get to the Pointon the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel on Friday nights appears on 4802: Final Friday on WQED Pittsburgh. The former host of Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister on WVON The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM is the newest edition to Newsradio 1020 KDKA. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.